I believe I do have a timeline of events that you might find revelatory.
The Nightingale family are celebrating Christmas with a family friend, Monty James.
Patrick opens a Christmas cracker. He reads the joke, but sets his hat aside without putting it on.
His son, Oswald, and daughter, Gally, both protest that he should wear the hat. Even his wife, Lettie, points out that Mr. James is wearing the hat that he won from his own cracker. Patrick is unmoved and does not wear his hat.
Oswald opens his cracker next and is excited to find a kazoo inside. After requesting permission from his father, Oswald attempts to put on his own hat, but it rips as he is doing so.
Gally blames the rip on the large size of Oswald’s head, but suggests that Oswald should take their father’s unused hat. Patrick refutes the idea, saying that Oswald should have taken better care of his hat.
Seeing an opportunity to lighten the mood, Mr. James seizes Patrick’s hat and rips it. The family laughs as Patrick then rips Mr. James’ hat and Gally rips her mother’s one.
Patrick describes this round of hat ripping as “fun in its proper place”.
As the laughter dies down, Gally tells Oswald to let their dog, Toby, out.
At the end of the meal, Patrick reveals to the children that Mr. James is known for his ghost stories, and that he has kindly consented to tell them one now.
Gally informs her parents, Patrick and Lettie, about the plans that she and Susanna have to tour the country as a musical act.
Her parents are hesitant, but are somewhat reassured when Gally tells them that Susanna has recently married a Captain Noone and that he will be travelling with them.
Gally’s brother, Newt, has been on the sidelines of the discussion. When their parents withdraw to discuss the matter, Newt asks Gally more questions about Susanna’s supposed husband.
Newt deduces that Captain Noone is a ruse. He tells Gally that the play on words with ‘no-one’ is not as subtle as she might think it is.
Gally tells him that it is too late to change the name from Noone, not least because she and Susanna are planning to rename their act ‘Midnight & Noone’.
The two discuss Gally’s new stage name of Midnight, agreeing that it is better suited than Nightingale given Gally’s low voice. This gives Newt an idea for a song in which Gally would play the part of a man who impersonates birds.
Gally phones Newt to ask him to do her a “colossal” favour by filling in for her at a Midnight & Noone performance in Leeds. She tells him that he will need to play the cello, but will only have one small bit of singing in the Albert Small song.
Despite Newt’s protests, Gally insists that he must do this for her. Gally tells him that he can borrow her clothes, but he will need to buy himself a top hat. (Presumably, this is because his head would be too large for Gally’s top hat.)
Newt is worried that the audience will be disappointed if they are expecting a male impersonator but get an actual man. Gally dismisses this by saying that they will just think he is frightfully good.
Newt is filling in for Gally at a Midnight & Noone performance.
He and Susanna perform the original version of Woof, Woof, Woof, which tells the story of Albert Small.
Albert was a renowned bird impressionist as a child. However, when his voice breaks, he can no longer reach the notes needed to imitate birds like the nightingale. So that he can continue to perform, he changes to doing dog impressions instead.
Gally warns her brother, Newt, that she has a “super colossal” favour to ask him.
Through cryptic references to Susanna’s pretend husband, Major Noone, Gally asks if Newt would father a child with Susanna, which Gally and Susanna could then raise together.
Newt is reluctant to do so. In his life generally, Newt has no interest in the required activity and never intends to try it. He remarks that there are other ways of achieving the same effect.
At this point, Gally begins to speak more plainly. She had particularly hoped that Newt would do this for them, so that the kid would be the closest possible thing to being Gally’s own child.
This convinces Newt and they agree to the plan. He asks to be part of the child’s life in the role of an uncle.
Gally begins to explain the practicalities of the arrangement by asking if Newt knows Crewe.
Newt knocks on the door of a hotel room. Susanna opens the door and greets him by saying: “Mr. Noone, I presume.”
Susanna thanks Newt for “filling in” and goes on to say: “I’m terribly sorry about breaking your duck.”
Despite not usually drinking, Newt takes a swig from a hip flask that Susanna has brought, since she points out to him that it is “rather a day for doing things you don’t do”.
They exchange awkward, but affectionate, conversation as they mentally prepare themselves for what they came to do.
Uncle Newt is walking his dog, Monty – named after old family friend Monty James.
Vanessa approaches him and asks that he tell her a story. Uncle Newt replies that he does not know any stories. Vanessa is incredulous, believing that all uncles should know stories. Uncle Newt reminds her that he is not truly an uncle, but just poses as one to get free pipe racks at Christmas.
Instead, Vanessa tells Newt the story of Cinderella. He repeatedly interrupts to question elements of the story, such as the priorities of the Fairy Godmother and the practicality of glass slippers.
When Vanessa has finished, she repeats her insistence that Uncle Newt should learn some stories. He agrees to attend to the matter.
Newt is teaching his class about Plato and Aristotle.
He explains that Aristotle was wrong to claim that heavy things fall faster than lighter things. He uses a short poem to remind them of this:
Whether they’re large or whether they’re small,
Has no effect on the rate which things fall.
But whether you choose to accept this or not-le,
Depends on your faith in that fool, Aristotle.
He asks one of his students, Spencer, who it was that proved Aristotle wrong in 1592. Spencer, who had not been listening, incorrectly guesses Plato. The answer was Galileo.
Vanessa is staying with Uncle Newt during the war. She returns home from her sewing circle and expresses her frustration at not being able to do something she considers more useful.
Newt tells her that, if she wants to go away to join a different wartime service, her son, Jerry, would be welcome to stay with him.
They discuss work that Vanessa might be able to do, hoping to find something that fits with her desire for autonomy.
Newt is approached by a former student of his, Spencer, who is now working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) – a secretive World War II organisation.
Spencer explains that the SOE communicates with field agents using “poem codes”. The message sender and recipient encrypt their messages based on an agreed upon passage of text. For security, this text must be carried in the agent’s head, but not be something well known generally.
The passages need to be intensely memorable, unpredictable and, ideally, consist of twenty-six words.
Spencer recalled the rhymes that Newt used to teach him in class as memory aids, and thought that Newt could help with this. He tells him that suitable passages were in great demand.
Newt is amused and honoured by the idea that his nonsense poems could help with the war effort. He agrees to help and adds that he will also enlist the help of his nephew, Jerry.
Uncle Newt is telling Jerry a bedtime story. The final line says that the villagers sang “paeans of praise” to their returning hero.
When asked by Jerry, Uncle Newt explains that a paean is “a long poem about how wonderful you are”. Jerry asks if he can have one. Uncle Newt tells him that he can maybe have one for his birthday.
They wish each other goodnight, to which Jerry adds: “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Jerry is celebrating his “unofficial” 8th birthday with Uncle Newt, with whom he is living during the war. His “official” birthday will be in December, when his parents are home on leave.
After first hearing Jerry’s latest poem, for which Jerry is paid his standard ha’penny, Uncle Newt gives him his birthday presents.
Jerry opens a gift to find a kazoo, which Uncle Newt admits he had just found at the back of a drawer.
Uncle Newt encourages Jerry to blow the kazoo, which cues Newt to deliver a “paean of praise” that he has written for Jerry. The paean tells of Jerry’s accomplishments and good deeds while living with his uncle.
Unbeknownst to Jerry, his mother, Vanessa, has taken leave from her war service, so that she can visit. She arrives in the room as Uncle Newt is finishing his paean. She delivers the final word: “Surprise!”
Jerry approaches Uncle Newt with a new poem for the ditty box. It relies on a play on words about an aardvark having two eyes and two ‘A’s.
Newt deems the verse worthy of the standard ha’penny fee, but also offers some advice for improvement.
Jerry visits his mother, Vanessa, in hospital. She is wrapped in bandages. She informs Jerry that she sustained her injuries when she was hit by a bridge.
Vanessa tells Jerry that, once she is discharged from hospital, she will be returning home from her service on the narrowboat.
Jerry is partly disappointed by this news. This means he will stop living with Uncle Newt, who has been teaching him to write poetry.
Newt tries to convince his father, Patrick, of the merits of appearing on Desert Island Discs to promote a new book that he has written.
Patrick is very sceptical of the idea. His view is simply that the book is available for purchase and if people want to read it, they can do so.
Uncle Newt is babysitting Myra and Deborah. As he is putting them to bed, they plead with him to tell them a bedtime story.
Deborah wants a story about ghosts, while Myra wants a story about gardens. Uncle Newt compromises by telling them a story about a haunted garden.
The Wilkinson family pull Christmas crackers around the table, starting with Vanessa and Uncle Newt. Vanessa wins and immediately takes the hat from inside and rips it up.
She also gets a small plastic cowboy from the cracker, which she gives to her grandson, Benji. Benji is warned not to snatch by his mother, Hilla, who reminds him that “Level 3” behaviour is expected.
Jerry says “onwards and upwards” and nominates Deborah to pull the next cracker.
Deborah chooses to pull her cracker with her grandfather, Walter. Vanessa indicates to Walter that his cracker is on his side plate. Deborah wins, but questions if she has to rip up her hat. She asks if that tradition comes from them being a bit Jewish.
Hilla tells her that lighting the candles is because they are a bit Jewish, but that the hat ripping comes from the Wilkinson side. It transpires that the tradition dates back at least as far as Uncle Newt’s childhood.
Uncle Newt prepares to tell the story of why the family rip the hats, but he is interrupted by a kitchen timer. Hilla bustles out of the room to fetch the pudding, enlisting help from Myra.
At 3:30am, Newt is watching television in the common room of the school at which he teaches. He is with two students from his Physics class and one other teacher.
They are watching coverage of the moon landing, which is due to take place within the next half hour, when they are discovered by an irate senior teacher, Mrs. Mill.
Newt asks to speak to Mrs. Mill outside the room. Once outside, she insists that they stop watching and asks Newt if he plans to defy her authority in front of the students. He says that he would not do that, but he thought he might very quietly defy it out here.
A stranger with a foreign accent approaches Newt and addresses him as Mr. Nightingale. Newt asks if he had taught the man years ago.
The man tells him they have never met, but that he had always wanted to meet him. He then recites this short poem:
I had a walrus for a pet.
Why I bought it, I forget.
I fed it kedgeree and rusks,
And used best Blanco on his tusks.
From the style of the rhyme, Newt recognises it as something written by himself or Jerry. He remarks that animals and kings were their speciality.
Newt is gratified to hear that the man had remembered the verse for all these years and that it had “worked”.
While sharing a drink, Vanessa asks Uncle Newt questions about her parentage. She had put off asking the questions before now, even though she had her doubts for a while.
Uncle Newt is able to tell her that Susanna Noone was indeed her mother, despite Vanessa’s resemblance to Aunt Gally.
He does go on to say that Gally would have loved to have been Vanessa’s mother, and that, really, she was one of her two mothers in every meaningful sense.
When Vanessa asks what her father looked liked, Newt only says that he never met Major Noone.
On the way to the reception of Myra’s wedding, Uncle Newt, Vanessa, Jerry, Deborah and Russ share a car. They represent five generations of the family.
Deborah is surprised to hear Jerry ask if he should start his speech with a poem, since she had just assumed that he would.
Vanessa and Deborah swap theories about the marital status of the registrar at the service, based on their observations of biro marks and reading glasses.
As they travel, Russ starts to feel unwell. Uncle Newt offers his top hat, should it be needed.
In an attempt to distract Russ, they all start to play a storytelling game by each saying one word at a time, but this fizzles out as Russ feels worse.
Next, they try to think of a song which they all know so that they could sing it to Russ. Uncle Newt is too elderly to know Yellow Submarine and Deborah is too young for Knees Up Mother Brown, but there is one song which spans the generations of the family.
Jerry counts them in and they all sing Woof, Woof, Woof together.
Unfortunately, they cannot prevent the inevitable, and Deborah is forced to apologise to Uncle Newt.
Newt replies: “Oh, not at all my dear. It was a very old hat.”
At Vanessa’s funeral, Deborah leaves Russ in the care of Uncle Newt while she finds her father to prevent him from doing a poem. Deborah leaves Russ with instructions to be “Level 5 good”.
Russ learns Newt’s name, which leads to a discussion of amphibians and, in particular, why turtles are not amphibians. Newt gives him a brief scientific explanation of the difference between reptiles and amphibians, but Russ does not want to hear more.
Instead, Russ asks Newt for a story about Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Having been informed that the turtles names are Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo, Newt tells Russ a story about turtles in Renaissance Florence.
At Vanessa’s funeral, Jerry is surprised to find that Uncle Newt is wearing the same hat as he wore to Myra’s wedding. Newt remarks that it is an awfully resilient thing.
Jerry’s daughter has just spoken to him to ensure that he will not do a poem at the funeral. When Uncle Newt hears this, he suggests that Jerry should do one for Newt’s own funeral, when the day comes.
Uncle Newt says that he would pay Jerry his fee for the poem in advance, except that ha’pennies are no longer produced. He reacts with mock outrage when Jerry suggests that he pay him a whole penny instead.
At Uncle Newt’s funeral, Jerry gives a eulogy in the form of a poem that he has composed about Newt.
In the poem, Jerry tells the audience of the years he spent living with Newt during the war. It was there that Jerry first started writing rhymes, for which Newt would pay him a ha’penny each (on condition that they scan).
He praises Newt as a teacher, storyteller and friend, before concluding with the lines:
Well, since you ask me for a toast…
O Nightingale! O Uncle Newt!